Are Ski Jackets Warm? – Buyer’s Guide for New Skiers
The Ski jacket is an essential part of a skier's kit by protecting you from the elements and keeping your vital organs warm. But have you ever wondered, just how warm is a ski jacket? Will a regular jacket work or do I need a special ski jacket?
Yes, ski jackets are warm but some are much warmer than others. There are different types of ski jackets from waterproof shells to those with fully integrated fleeces. The colder the weather the warmer your jacket needs to be. Thicker is not always warmer and a breathable jacket that wicks away moisture is just as important otherwise your sweat may make you damp, heavy and cold.
Choosing the right ski jacket can be a minefield of options and price points. In this guide, I’ve broken down the most important things to know - whether you're buying your first or second ski jacket.
Key Features of a Perfect Ski Jacket
There are five key parts of the perfect ski jacket; breathability, waterproofing, warmth, and durability.
A jacket's breathability is important in allowing your sweat to escape through the fabric of the jacket. No one wants to feel clammy or sweaty on the slopes. The breathability of a jacket can be measured technically by measuring the amount of water vapor in grams that escapes every 24 hrs.
The more water droplets that can pass through a jacket, the more breathable it is for the skier. Ski jackets can be very breathable whilst also being fully waterproof. They do this by using multiple layers of fabric.
An outer layer is water repellent to stop water being soaked up by the jacket while a middle membrane layer uses the tiny hole to regulate the flow of moisture. The holes in the membrane are too tiny to let liquid water in but just large enough to allow even smaller water vapor droplets to escape from the interior of the jacket.
A breathable ski jacket is an essential part of mountain comfort. Being warm is not enough. Us humans are constantly sweating no matter the outside air temperature, so a breathable moisture-wicking layer is crucial. It's worth paying a bit more for a breathable ski jacket.
The breathability of a jacket ranges from 2,000mm – 28,000mm. The higher the number the more breathable the jacket.
NOT Recommended Breathability Rating ❌
- 2-5,000mm is an ok baseline for on-piste skiing in cold but dry weather with regular breaks. Cheaper options but they are not very comfortable for long days of moderate skiing.
Recommended Breathability Rating ✅
- 5-10,000mm is better for long skiing days, where you will sweat more in all weather conditions.
- 10-20,000mm is ideal for wetter, snowier climates and for increased snow contact like backcountry and off-piste skiing. Recommended for most skiers.
Note: If a jacket uses the RET scale (Resistance to Evaporative Heat Transfer) then a lower number means more breathability.
Perhaps the most important part of a ski jacket, it's the ability to keep you dry. Waterproofing refers to the ability of a jacket to keep out water and snow from penetrating to the interior of your jacket.
Not all waterproof jackets are created equal and there is a massive range of waterproof from water resistant to extremely waterproof. The higher your waterproof rating, the dryer your jacket will be.
How waterproof a jacket is can be determined using a simple hydrostatic test; place the fabric under a sealed tube of water and keep adding more water until the fabric can no longer withstand it, eventually, the fabric will become saturated.
The point at which it becomes wet and water seeps through gives your waterproof rating. With ski jacket, this typically ranges from 4,000 - 28,000 mm. To make ski jackets waterproof manufacturers use a durable water repellent coating (DWR), tighter weaves, sealed seams and an inner membrane.
this is the snow facing fabric and it is usually made from a nylon or polyester weave. It usually has printed graphics and patterns or a color coating. The surface will be treated with water-resistant DWR as the first defense against the snow.
The membrane blocks water droplets from entering but allows water vapor from sweat to evaporate. Membranes in ski jackets are typically made from Teflon and a Polyurethane coating.
The interior layer is usually a mesh fabric that is bound to the outer layers. The mesh increases breathability and protects the membrane. The mesh may come in a 2-layer fabric which is bulkier, cheaper and less breathable.
Or the pricier 3-layer will be more durable and more breathable for the skier. Higher quality stitching, tougher materials, and advanced water-resistant coatings improve a jacket's waterproofing in the long-term.
|Ratings 💦||Water Resistance 🚫|
|0-5,000mm||No resistance/Little resistance|
|20,000mm +||Highest resistance|
NOT Recommended Waterproof Rating ❌:
- 5,000mm or lower - Bad: Only water resistant. Not fun to ski in if you fall into the snow a few times or it starts to snow.
- 5-10,000mm - OK: will be ok in fair weather skiing, but when it snows you will get wet within an hour.
Recommended Waterproof Rating ✅:
- 10,000 mm - Minimum baseline: Look for skiing jackets at this level or higher. This will keep you dry for a few hours in bad weather and some contact with the snow.
- 15,000 mm - Decent waterproofing, this will keep you dry most of the day in bad weather.
- 20,000 mm - Excellent waterproofing. Will keep you dry all day in snowy conditions.
- 28,000 mm - Extreme waterproofing. Will keep you dry all day in snowy conditions. The best waterproofing levels, usually GoreTex. Expect to pay decent money for this level of protection.
A ski jacket needs to keep you warm. Skiing is a winter sport, and temperatures can vary wildly from 5c-25c or greater. You'll need a jacket that is appropriate for the climate that you ski in. Where I ski, it usually hovers around 0 and never dips below -10c with many sunny skiing days.
I know in plenty of other ski resorts, the weather is drastically colder and many days can be overcast, cloudy, and windy. The wind chill is a huge factor in reducing the ambient air temperature and a small gust of wind can make an otherwise pleasant day- extremely serious.
You need a warm jacket to protect your vital organs and be comfortable. Ski jackets that are just shells will only provide waterproofing and no warmth. To stay warm you'll want a ski jacket with a fleece lining. The thicker the fleece lining, the warmer the jacket.
Ski jacket insulation is typically made from synthetic polyester, that is spun into millions of tiny filaments. The space between the fibers insulates body heat and stops it from escaping to the outside layers. Synthetic fibers also have the added benefit of drying faster than natural fibers, so can keep you warm while also evaporating sweat.
How warm you feel inside your jacket depends not only on the jacket itself but also on the weather conditions and the person wearing the jacket. With all things equal, someone with more body fat or a higher metabolism may feel warmer while the reverse can be true.
If you're easily prone to feeling cold, buy a warmer jacket to be safe. If you want to manage your temperature with a thinner or thicker mid-layer then go for a less warm ski jacket.
Durability & Weight 💪
There are many types of jacket weights, from heavy duty to thin shells and everything in-between. Thicker jackets are warmer and better for colder climates while thinner jackets will be less insulating but perform better in warmer mountains.
Expect the extra thickness of some jacket to be heavier and make for a minor reduction in your mobility. It's worth the extra bulk if you like skiing in colder temperatures. High-quality weaves and stronger materials will make for a more durable ski jacket - you'll need to pay a bit more, but it will make up for it in longevity.
A less durable ski jacket may be cheaper but it will be more prone to tearing and ripping. The stitching and zipping will be less substantial and more likely to get stuck or break.
Ski Jacket Areas
A hood is great for extra protection in snow storms and to insulate your head further from extreme cold. Ski jacket hoods are larger and will fit over your head and helmet. A detachable hood is a useful feature, but choose one with a zipper or strong poppers. Look for a hood with adjustable elastic for a custom fit.
Choose a ski jacket with velcro adjusting cuffs. The velcro adjuster means you can tighten the cuff to wrap around the wrist and seal in any gaps from the snow or cold. An added feature is a thumbhole cuff. This is a space to put your thumb into as you put on your ski jacket - keeping the jacket arm extended and stopping the sleeve from rolling up your arm.
A ski jacket with mesh vents is a must-have. This allows you to release excess heat and catch a breeze on warmer days. It also dramatically increases the breathability of your jacket. Most vents are on the side of the jacket, in the armpit region.
You'll want plenty of pockets to store your belongings. A few internal and external pockets to store your phone and locker key. A small pocket on the sleeve above the cuff is a really helpful place to put your ski pass. It means you can lift up your arm to activate the barrier, rather than fiddling through your pockets.
Look for a sturdy, high-quality zipper on your jacket. A poor-quality zipper that gets stuck easily can ruin an otherwise good jacket.
Nice to Have
Snap to Pants
Built-in poppers, zips, hooks or loops will allow you to fasten your trousers to your jacket for a seamless fit. This keeps your trousers more secure and your body more thermally insulated. Takes you back to the days of an all in one body-suite.
Also known as a snow skirt. This is an elasticated band at the base of the jacket which blocks snow from getting through to the interior during a fall or snowy weather.
Great for new skiers or fast skies. Greater padding gives you more protection during a fall.
Some ski jackets have a hole to get headphone wires to your ears from an internal iPod pocket. Alternatively, use wireless headphones or helmets with built-in speakers.
Most jackets have this but worth noting; a wide mesh pocket that you can keep your goggles in while not in use is a helpful feature.
There are two main types of ski jackets:
Some skiers may use a soft-shell jacket that is used as an all-rounder for hiking as well as skiing. You can wear a soft shell over a thicker mid-layer fleece and it will keep you warm and dry. A soft-shell style of ski jacket is great for people who prefer to control their temperature with mid-layers and who ski in warmer climates.
Most skiers prefer this style of an insulated jacket. Insulated ski jackets have padding and an interior fleece lining for greater comfort and warmth. This means you can keep warm with a light mid-layer and not rely on a thick fleece beneath.
Avoid jackets with a down feathers as insulation for skiing. Down gets wet very easily and takes a long time to dry - so it is not very helpful for skiers. New synthetic materials mimic down very well and produce the same compressible, stretchy feel.
Insulated jackets come in a range of thickness and warmth from lightweight to extreme heavy-weight. If you want to be warmer, go thicker - but know that you'll pay the cost in terms of more weight and bulk.
Remember you can supplement a jacket with a mid-layer fleece and thermal base-layer for added warmth.
Just like regular clothes, ski jackets come in three main fits. From body-hugging slim fit through to a snowboarder-style baggy fit. Each brand will have slightly different fits.
Tailored or Slim Fit
The classic slim fit ski jacket is popular with women and men skiers who like the look and prefer less bulk or internal space. A slim fit ski jacket will not be ideal for growing children or adults that change shape over Christmas!
Most skiers will opt for the regular fit. A regular fit will be a bit baggier than a normal hiking jacket and will provide more space for internal movement. Pockets will have more room and the jacket will extend further over the trousers
Baggy or Loose Fit
Great for skiers and snowboarders who want to use the same jacket. The looser fit will be longer, have more internal space and allow for thicker mid-layers.
People choose the baggier fit because they prefer the style and like the greater range of internal movement that a baggy fit provides. If you're not used to this style of fit; you may feel like a kid in his older brothers clothes.
What's the Difference Between Men and Women's Ski Jackets?
Women's ski jackets are generally a tighter more body-hugging fit. They will usually come in different color options. Essentially they are the same and there's no real difference in the features or how they operate to keep the skier warm and dry.
Both ski jackets are interchangeable and if you like the fit; women can wear a mans ski jacket and vice versa.
From plain to crazy patterns, ski colours come in with all shapes and size. While you can get cream or white ski jackets, I would recommend that you choose any color that contrasts against the snow.
In bad weather conditions, a jacket that camouflages you into the snow can be dangerous for oncoming skiers. In the event of a crash into a hidden area, it makes you much more visible to rescuers.
Key Tips To Remember
- Spend more for a longer lasting comfortable jacket that keeps you warm and dry (go for the highest waterproofing and breathability you can afford - 10k or above).
- For colder weather, choose a thicker jacket.
- Decide if you want a slim, regular or baggy fit.
- Choose a distinctive color or pattern to be easily found on the slopes.
- Ski jackets are awesome for wearing off the slopes as well; It's Better to invest in one quality jacket than two average ones.
Patagonia, North Face, Colombia. Helly Hansen.